In the opening scenes of the new movie Good Night, Oppy, the Opportunity Rover rolls through Perseverance Valley on Mars in June 2018 while The B-52s’ “Roam” fills the room in Mission Control.
The upbeat tune was the rover’s wake-up song, played at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Just as NASA has been waking astronauts to a song each day they spend in space since the 1960s, the Opportunity Rover team began their daily shifts with a song that sets the mood for “Oppy’s” journey.
The documentary “Good Night, Oppy” follows the Mars Opportunity rover that turned a 90-day mission anticipated by NASA into a 15-year exploration of the Red Planet. Recognition: Courtesy of Prime Video
Oppy had previously weathered dust storms, along with solar flares, sand traps, cosmic rays, near misses, and harsh Martian winters for more than a decade while exploring the red planet. In 2018, however, her team was able to spot the signs of “grey hair” — a failing memory, a desire to nap, arthritis in the robotic arm.
However, the members of the mission team still considered her their lucky rover – invincible. After all, Oppy was designed for a 90-day mission, but she exceeded all expectations, outliving her twin sister, Spirit, by about seven years.
This chapter is just the beginning of Good Night, Oppy, available to stream on Amazon Prime on November 23rd. The film traces the journey of the twin rovers and the people who gave their lives to them, from concept to final transmission.
The film sheds light on the hope of space exploration and captures the emotional bond between humans and the robotic ambassadors who do research on our behalf.
Director Ryan White has woven decades of footage from NASA’s vaults with photorealistic effects and animation by Industrial Light & Magic, the famed visual effects company founded by George Lucas, and narration by actress Angela Bassett. The documentary places the viewer alongside the two rovers on Mars as they roam opposite sides of the red planet.
“Even though the spacecraft was a robot, the mission was human,” said Doug Ellison, director of the technical camera team for the Curiosity rover at JPL, who also worked on the Opportunity mission.
When NASA engineers built and tested the twin rovers in the early 2000s, they quickly realized that the robots couldn’t be more different. According to team members, Spirit was the headstrong drama queen while Opportunity was the high flyer. Spirit was stubborn and struggled through the same tests that Opportunity broke. Their personalities seemed as human as their designs.
The rovers were built to search for past evidence of water on Mars. Both launched in protective envelopes aboard Delta rockets in 2003 and landed on opposite sides of the Red Planet in 2004. The first 90 days of the dual mission came and went, and the JPL team realized the two rovers were ready for more adventures.
This image is a cropped version of the latest 360 panorama taken from May 13 to June 10, 2018 by the Opportunity rover’s panoramic camera. The view is rendered in false colors to make some differences between the materials more visible. Recognition: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU
Bonds between team members and the rovers quickly deepened, despite the great distance between Earth and Mars — making it all the more difficult when Spirit’s voyage ended in 2011 and Opportunity fell silent in 2018. There was hope for both rovers to “wake up”. to the bitter end.
“The way the (Opportunity) mission ended was very sudden,” Ellison told CNN. “We had a very happy and healthy Rover for a week and then this dust storm came and took everything away. … You can call it a death in the family. It was very sudden, it was very traumatic. And always it was really kind of emotionally rewarding to revisit.
Thousands of people had worked on every aspect of the rovers, bringing them to life and keeping them rolling on Mars for longer than anyone expected.
“What we’re really saying goodbye to is the teamwork that’s focused on this robot and being able to work with a whole bunch of great people,” Ellison said.
Bring “Oppy” to life
The creative process behind the film began in March 2020 on the eve of the pandemic.
A self-confessed “space geek,” White grew up pursuing space missions in the 1980s. The project became his “lifesaver to work on something so happy at such a dark time,” he said.
Industrial Light & Magic is dedicated to bringing Mars to life in a way never before seen on film. Shot by shot, members of the ILM team worked with NASA to confirm that what they depicted accurately matched the rovers’ experience.
The end result is as close as the viewer can stand on the surface of Mars, with camera angles that feel like they were filmed on the red planet itself.
“ILM really taught us that you can do that within the limits of reality: through lenses and lighting and through the angle of the robot’s cameras, which were their eyes,” White said.
A member of the mission team inspects NASA’s Opportunity rover. The team developed an emotional bond with the robotic Mars explorer and its twin Spirit. Recognition: Courtesy of Prime Video
The first samples of Mars collected by Perseverance will make their way to Earth in the 2030s and may contain evidence of life – if it ever existed on the red planet.
“All of these missions are, as a cadence, the precursor to sending humans there to continue this adventure in the future,” Ellison said. “I hope that the next generation of engineers and explorers, people like my little 4-year-old girl, can see documentaries like this and say, ‘I want to do some of that too. I want to be a part of his adventure like this.'”
Add to queue: More on Mars
Watch: “The Mars Generation” (2017)
Aspiring teenage astronauts explore the curriculum at NASA Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama while chasing their dream of one day traveling to Mars. Experts also delve into the history and future of NASA and the feasibility of colonizing another planet, revealing that the first human voyage to Mars is closer than you might think.
Watch: “The Martian” (2015)
Based on the novel by Andy Weir, Ridley Scott’s upbeat sci-fi film follows a stranded astronaut who, with few supplies and no contact with Earth, must find clever ways to survive on barren Mars.
Watch: “The Expanse” (2015-2022)
Set in a future where much of the solar system has been colonized by humanity, the six-season television series (and nine-novel book series by James SA Corey) follows a hardened detective and a renegade ship captain as they investigate a missing person young woman. They race across the planets and uncover mysteries about their unusual living conditions.
Read: “Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet” (2005)
Steven Squyres, Mission Manager for the Mars Exploration Rover Project, tells the story behind the landing of the twin rovers in 2004. With the many setbacks in the mission’s early launch and the race against the clock to complete construction of the two rovers before launch, Squyres gives readers a front row seat and his expert insight into the rover’s first finds.
Watch: “Apollo 11: First Steps Edition” (2019)
Released 50 years after NASA’s Apollo 11 mission, this critically acclaimed documentary chronicles the final moments of preparations in 1969 for the landing of the first man on the moon. With the current Artemis missions aiming to land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon in the coming decade, NASA is hopeful that further lunar discoveries will eventually lead to the first human setting foot on Mars, thereby The results of the historic Apollo 11 mission are even more important than ever.